Android Delight:Xperia-ncing the best of Sony in a smartphone.

Sony gave the world the first flagship smartphone handset for the year 2013 following a rush completion of the Sony Xperia Z which was unveiled at the CES 2013 in the very first month of the year. Although they did finish the race in first place, it did not do the company much favor as an older device meant that the handset could not keep up with its competitors such as the HTC One, and more importantly, the Galaxy S4 released a little while later. So, by the end of the third fiscal quarter, the company revamped and reconfigured a few things on the inside to come out with a stronger competitor to the S4 and 5S, and they’ve called it the Z1. Launched only recently, we had a chance to review this phone in terms of its features and functionality. Here is what we have to say about it. 

Early Impressions
Un-boxing the latest Z1, we get a sleek and elegant smartphone which is plenty big for its kind, and at first glance, you will see nothing but a big LCD panel which reads SONY on top. If you look closer, you’ll find a communications speaker at the top edge of the phone which also happens to carefully hide the colourful notification LED.  On the front, that’s pretty much it; no physical buttons whatsoever. When we turn to the back, we get a fine glass back, unconventional to aluminum, plastic, or even the leather back that we usually come across in other devices.

The posterior flank features the primary camera (which we will discuss in detail later) along with an NFC sensor locating logo and other branding emblems of the company SONY and the smartphone series XPERIA. Pretty plain and simple on either face, the side faces, which are barely a third of an inch high, cover all the buttons and ports. On top, we have nothing but a 3.5 mm jack slot while the bottom side flaunts the loudspeaker all through its length. At the left, we have the memory card slot and the micro USB port for charging and data transfer (which has a covering flap), and to the right, we come across the micro SIM card slot, the newly designed circular power button, volume controls, and a dedicated camera button from top to bottom. Although the new design on the power button adds to the aesthetic appeal, the tiny button feels uneasy compared to most other phones.

In terms of looks, the Z1 pans out fairly similar to the January release of Xperia Z. At 144 mm X 74 mm, the Z1 is a big phone that we have here, and when it comes to keeping it in smaller pockets or your tight jeans, it’s not an assuring feeling, but that is less of an issue inside handbags or when you have a jacket on. While using the handset, the 5 in. display panel invites discomfort working with a single hand, but the phone with its Omnibalance design and curvy edges couldn’t feel better, no matter which way you hold it, yet it is much easier and faster to work on with both hands. Oh yes, the handset comes in black, white, or purple.

 

Hardware
What we have here is a state of the art high-end luxury class phone that musters up the kind of quality and performance that only a couple of other smartphones present today can match up to. While the phone earns much points for its lovely design, it earns higher respect for its performance. To start with the core, the Z1 has upgraded to Snapdragon 800 making it one of the fastest devices. It comes with 2 GB of RAM and 16 GB of internal storage. However, don’t let the numbers fool you, because you only have 12 GB of the phone storage usable and we found that the stock Xperia ROM with basic phone features usually take up around 800 MB of 1.5 GB usable RAM, leaving you roughly 700 MB for your apps and games. But, this seems less of an issue, as the phone comfortably back-grounded 15 apps, which is the limit set by SONY within which you can multitask seamlessly. The lag on this phone was virtually null, although during testing, the phone did feel slightly out of its comfort zone while confronting 3D graphics.

 

On the Antutu benchmark, our phone clocked up a staggering 30571 points. The only device that could topple that score was the Galaxy Note 3 which managed an average score which was merely over 150 points more. The Adreno 330 graphics processor handled games like Temple Run 2, Highway Rider, and similar games like a piece of cake, and the rankings maxed out on the 3D benchmark too. We were extremely pleased with the tremendous detail with heavier games like Asphalt 8 in the 1080 p Triluminos display with Sony’s X-Reality Engine, and the user experience with the 5 inch display was simply phenomenal. The Quad-core 2.2 GHz Krait 400 CPU on this gadget seems to make everything work just fine without generating much heat as the maximum temperature spike we witnessed while gaming was close to 46 0C.

Moving on to the battery, the Z1 offers a 3000 mAH battery which is well above anything else in the mainstream smartphone industry, and with features like the stamina mode, Sony claims that the juice on this thing could hold up for up to 9 days. However, we found an in-cohesive result as we were able to dry up the battery from its 15 % critical level to zero in just over an hour while putting the phone to use with the stamina mode switched off. Also, it took a great deal of time to charge up its massive power bank, especially when the phone was on. When playing heavier games while charging (over the AC adapter), the phone managed to discharge faster than it could charge. A massive disappointment we came across the Z1 was its camera. So much for what Sony claims to be a revolutionary smartphone camera equipped with Bionz and Exmor Technology with the Sony G lens on a larger than usual sensor size, the 20.7 MP camera in no way lives upto the Sony quality. Images were grainy and not very crisp, regardless of the focus time it took. The Z1, however, has a LED flash this time which went missing on the Z. Nevertheless, the camera was probably the biggest disappointment on the phone. The secondary 2 MP front facing camera is okay though.
As for the speaker and the microphone on the phone, they produced noise free outputs, and bearing in mind the thin nature of the phone, the loudness from the speakers was appreciable too. Winding down to IEC IP55/IP58 standards that the Z1 has, the gadget can go underwater to depths of 1.5 m for well upto 30 minutes. Also, the handset is claimed to be dustproof, so with every port opening sealable with cover flaps, and the outers of both the faces being tough enough and scratch resistant, the phone can withstand quite some beating in unfriendly conditions. From a user-end perspective, this is a much valued bonus feature that many other phone companies have yet to incorporate in their handsets.

Additional hardware includes the NFC sensor and LTE standard (non-existent in Nepal), apart from 2G and 3G GSM platforms and all essential sensors.

Software and Accessories
The Z1 departs from the factory on a Xperia UI based Android 4.2 Jellybean software system but offers  a company upgrade of the latest Android KitKat 4.4 version. We already received an update notification on our handset when we connected it to the internet. The upgrade assures better multitasking features and expanded multimedia options. As far as the Xperia UI is concerned, it is a lightweight platform which is easy on the device and pretty basic to look at. The settings button on the notification bar has emerged with dedicated toggle buttons for WiFi, Bluetooth, etc., rather than having to navigate to the settings menu. However, we missed a “clear all” button in the recent apps list making it an arduous task whenever we wanted to clear everything running in the background.

As far as the Sony apps are concerned, they are very well designed and should impress users easily. The Walkman is a delight to listen to your favorite songs, Sony Playstation has definitely added fun to the phone, and the camera application has much to offer in terms of Infoeye, Social Live, and Picture Effects. And another thing we loved was the Small apps that could pop up anywhere on the screen on top. This works with all the widgets too. Similarly, compatible with the Z1 is a chunk of accessories, most of which are wireless, and could be of great use depending on the person you are. The three most notable accessories are the Smartwatch, which, much like the Gear on the Samsung device, offers you a bite-size of what is happening on the phone right on your wrist; the stereo wireless speaker, which pumps up the volume and gives you a much better stereo audio than the in-built speaker, and lastly, the camera accessory, a large and bulky optical lens that you could attach on your smartphone and connect with the NFC technology, which most would want as a substitute for the dismal in-built hardware.